When, and Why, Should You Decant Wines?

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Sommelier holding a decanter of red wines next to a tray of empty wine glassesNot everyone may be familiar with a decanter or why you would use one. The short answer is that a little aeration can make a striking difference in the flavor of your wine.

Decanting wine is the art of slowly pouring your wine from its original bottle into a glass vessel or decanter. We call it an "art" because you need to do it without disturbing the sediment at the bottom — which is easier said than done.  Decanters often have an easy-pour neck and come in all shapes and sizes. The most common are:

  • Swan
  • Duck
  • Cornett
  • Standard

It's important to note that a decanter is not the same as a carafe. While both wine-holding vessels will impress your guests, they have different purposes. Glass decanters are designed to facilitate the aeration process. Carafes are simply meant for better presentation and ease of serving your wine.

Why Decant Wines?

Decanting has numerous benefits, including separating the sediment from the liquid. This is especially helpful for red wines, which hold the most sediment. Decanting also enhances a wine's flavor by exposing it to fresh air, and allowing it to breathe.

Wines spend quite a while inside the bottle with no oxygen exposure. Aeration expands all the dormant aromas and flavors in your wine by releasing accumulated gases and softening the tannins. But keep in mind, too much oxygen can ruin a good wine. You must always limit the leftover's exposure to the air and keep it cool.

How to Properly Decant Your Wines

Decanting wine, while not difficult, does take some time and patience. To be sure you are doing it correctly, follow this guide:

  1. Start by sitting your bottle upright for at least 24 hours before decanting, especially if you store your wines horizontally. Make sure all the sediment settles at the bottom of the bottle before opening it.
  2. Open the bottle.
  3. Slowly tilt the bottle toward the decanter. Always keep the bottom of the bottle low to keep the sediment from reaching the neck, and avoid disturbing the sediment.
  4. Pour the wine into the decanter slowly but steadily. If the sediment starts reaching the top, stop pouring and tilt the bottle upright to let it settle down again.
  5. Recork the leftover wine within 18 hours.

To avoid pouring sediment into the decanter, always leave a bit of liquid in the bottle.

You can decant your wine a couple of hours before you plan to drink it. However, keep in mind that each wine has different decanting times. Although there's little risk your oxidized wine spoiling if you planning to drink it within four hours, be mindful of the type of wine you're dealing with.

Is There Such Thing as Over-Decanting?

If you’re drinking your wines within a few hours of decanting them, they won't start degrading. However, be particularly careful with:

  • White wines - This type has higher levels of thiols than red wines. When over-decanted, they can lose their grapefruit, guava, or passionfruit aromas.
  • Sparkling wines - Generally, you shouldn't have to decant a sparkling wine. However, some might present a pungent aroma that needs to evaporate before drinking.
  • Old wines - Some vintages are delicate and can decay quickly once they have been opened.

Which Wines Do You Need to Decant?

Almost all wines can benefit from decanting. The aeration process makes them taste smoother and fruitier. Oxygen exposure is especially good for younger wines with very strong tannins. Avoid decanting most sparkling wines, though. While aeration may help to soften the initial aggressive bubble that comes from opening a Champagne, it is very easy to extinguish the bubble entirely.

‌How Long Should You Decant Your Wines?

As said before, red vintages might taste better if you get rid of their sediment, while younger wines could benefit from smoothing out a little bit before reaching your taste buds.  However, you need to know exactly how long to air your wines out for optimal results.

Red Wines

Red wines can take anywhere between 20 minutes and two hours to reach their fullest potential when decanting. Light-bodied red wines will only need up to 20 to 30 minutes. Some great examples are:

Medium-bodied wines, on the other hand, should be decanted for 20 minutes to an hour. The most common examples are:

Lastly, full-bodied red wines take between one to two hours to decant. Some all-time favorites include:

Most red wines need at least 15 minutes for their reductive traits to evaporate. After that, an extra 15 to 30 minutes will make the remaining sharp aromas a lot milder. At the 60-minute mark, the tannins will become less intense.

‌White and Rosé Wines

Most white wines and rosés don't really need to be decanted. But, if your wine is reduced, decanting will help. If your wine smells strange when you open it, it is probably due to reduction. This is common phenomenon happens when the aromatic compounds have gone without oxygen for too long.

You can tell if your wine is reduced if it lacks aromas or smells like:

  • Rotten eggs
  • Burnt rubber
  • Garlic

Reduced white wines and rosés need to decant for up to 30 minutes, although 15 minutes should be more than enough. If you wait the right amount of time, the fruity scents will return.

Practice Decanting

Decanting wines is not as hard as it might look. All you need is a little patience and a light hand. If you do it correctly, you'll be able to enjoy your favorite wines at their most aromatic and flavorful. If you can't wait to try your hand at decanting, our consultants can help you find the best wines depending on your taste. Visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines and order all your favorite high-quality wines today.